This chart for 1802 shows the numbers of children born and living in the parish workhouses. The document notes infant mortality, and the numbers of children sent out ‘to the country’, apprenticed, or employed as servants. Out of 381 children, the document notes that 20 died – this represents over 5%. Around 1800 in London, mortality in the first year of life was just under 20%.
How did people view children?
Infant mortality in the first two years of life was so high that it was accepted as natural and inevitable for a proportion of children born. One of the earliest books directed at children, James Janeway’s A Token for Children (1672), still in print at the end of the 18th century, asked ‘if other children die, why may not you be sick and die?’
How does this relate to William Blake’s view of childhood?
At the time this document was created, the Blakes were living at Felpham (1800-3) in rural Sussex, the only period William Blake lived outside London. Blake had been brought up in Soho, and had spent his apprenticeship years near Lincoln’s Inn Fields, both areas with dense population.
Though the Blakes did not have children, Blake’s view of the world, both actual and visionary, was not divided into childhood and adulthood. He drew as a child, and he had visions as a child. Blake’s Songs have often been thought of as children’s literature, but specifically he states that they are not songs for innocence and experience, but songs of innocence and experience; the rhymes and repetitions in the Songs echo children’s speech patterns. And Blake pointed out about his visions that ‘particularly they have been elucidated by children’.